This is the sight on one of South Wales’ most famous streets as 24 properties lie empty.
St Mary Street in the centre of Cardiff is known around the world for offering some of the best nights out – but a council policy has been accused of slowly killing it.
The decision to reject an application by a burlesque club to open in the centre of Cardiff has drawn scorn from Cardiff residents.
Online comments left after the Greene Room was refused a licence last Friday questioned whether a saturation zone on St Mary Street was still needed.
The saturation zone, which was brought in on January 8th 2005, makes it harder for new and existing businesses to gain alcohol licences, as any plans trigger an automatic objection from South Wales Police.
The chair of Cardiff council’s licensing committee defended the saturation zone but revealed it was being reviewed.
Councillor Ed Bridges said: “As a committee we are aware of the changing nature of the area and we recognise that we may need to change where the policy applies to.
“This may mean taking the lower end of St Mary Street out of the zone and moving other areas such as Greyfriars into it.”
Coun Bridges said he could understand people’s frustration with the recent Greene Room decision.
He said: “We can distinguish between more up-market applications, such as the Greene Room, but we needed assurances on public safety for such a large venue – and they couldn’t provide that.”
View a map showing the extent of the St Mary Street saturation zone
View St Mary Street saturation zone in a larger map
The saturation zone was introduced because of high numbers of licensed premises in the area leading to high crime rates.
Nick Newman, chair of Cardiff licencees forum, said although a number of businesses had closed he still supported the saturation zone.
“I still think that in terms of St Mary Street it is needed. We still have a lot of licensed premises in the area. The way I understand it is that each application is heard on its merits and that’s the way it should be.”
Mr Newman said the rise of ‘lounge-bars’ outside the city centre could be a sign of people trying to escape the saturation zone.
He said: “You’ve got places like Juno Lounge popping up in old terraces outside the centre, and maybe these are people trying to escape the saturation zone and take an easier route.”
The manager of a restaurant on High Street, who asked not to be named, said: “They don’t distinguish what type of business it is. It’s about stopping people from being out on the streets at 2am but my customers aren’t out at 2am, they’re in bed.
“I’d like to see one or two more restaurants at this end. Customers from restaurants don’t cause trouble. We wanted to put tables out the front. The council want this cafe culture yet to have meetings with them about it makes it awkward. It’s extra hoops to jump through. They can designate the high street end as fair game and denote the difference between clubs and restaurants.”
David Hughes-Lewis, chair of Cardiff Retail Partnership, said the street had suffered during the recession: “It’s sad to see so many empty premises, but I hope we can see St Mary Street restored to its former glories. But I think it’s changing.
“The top end of High Street is now very different to the lower end, and I hope once the work is all finished we’ll see more businesses, particularly day-time ones, return to the street.”
Cardiff council is pedestrianising High Street and St Mary Street. The first batch of works, to the top end of the street were finished in November last year and the whole ‘Castle Quarter’ scheme is due to completed in September this year.
Bar managers on the street feel the saturation zone is working, as they see less trouble than in previous years.
Josh Powell who works in the Missoula bar, which has a licence until 3am on Fridays and Saturdays, said: “There isn’t any trouble here general. Our staff are very good but there’s a lot in the street but it’s not too bad here normally. The worst was when Swansea cane a month or two ago and there was a lot of trouble. That was about 6pm. We aim towards a different clientel. We don’t always show sports and have a slightly higher market. The door staff turn away a lot of people they don’t like the look of.”
Shane O’ Gorman, manager at O’Neils on St Mary Street, said: “There’s a lot less trouble than five years. It’s gone down and is going in the right direction. We are happy with our licence. The only issue we have is refusing drunken people coming in. We used to see an awful lot of trouble outside. The police are maybe a bit harsh on the restaurants though.”
Additional reporting by David Stubbings
What do you think about the decision on the Greene Room? Do you think the saturation zone is killing St Mary Street? What do you think about the saturation zone? Let us know in the comments below